"Zack wouldn't hurt me!" she said scornfully.

"He's not sane. You don't know what he'll do if he realizes you tricked him. That's why, no matter what happens, you're going to pretend to be on his side until he's safely in custody. Remember, we talked about all this before?" He drew back as they were about to reach the attractive brunette flight attendant standing at the front door of the plane. "Do you have it all clear?"

Julie wanted to start screaming that nothing was clear, but she dug her fingernails into her palms and somehow made herself nod.

"Okay, you're on your own now," he said, stopping in the doorway and carefully taking her coat off her shoulders and draping it over her arm. "In five minutes, this will all be over. Keep thinking of that—just five more minutes. And remember, don't look for him, let him find you."

He stopped, watching as she walked slowly ahead of them down the jetway, letting her gain several yards on him, then he stepped forward with Ted at his side. The moment they were out of hearing of the flight crew, Ted said in a low, furious whisper, "You had no right to put her through this. You said yourself the whole airport is swarming with FBI and Mexican police. You don't need her here to draw him out!"

Paul unbuttoned his jacket and loosened his tie—a casually dressed businessman coming to Mexico City with a friend for a few days' business and pleasure. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he said with a tight smile, "She insisted on coming to make certain Benedict isn't hurt, and you know it. I had the pilot radio ahead for a doctor; he'll be on hand to give her a sedative as soon as this is over."

"If you were half as clever as you think you are, your people would already have him in custody, and they don't, do they? You found that out when you went up into the cockpit to use the radio, didn't you?"

Paul's smile widened, but his words were ominous. "Right. He's slipped past them somehow, or else he didn't come. The FBI has no jurisdiction in Mexico. Until we get Benedict across the border we can only 'assist' the Mexican police in this operation, and they aren't very good with this sort of thing."

Shaking from the tips of her feet to the ends of her fingers, Julie walked unsteadily into the noisy gate area, where passengers were being met by family and friends, her gaze searching wildly for a tall, dark-haired man loitering at the edge of some cheerful group, and when she didn't see him, she took a few steps beyond the gate into the terminal and faltered, paralyzed with a conflicting mixture of relief and panic.

"Pardon, señorita!" a Mexican called, jostling past her, running for his flight with a boy in one hand and a suitcase in the other.

"Pardon!" another man said, shoving her rudely—he was very tall and dark, and his face was turned away. "Zack!" she whispered in terror, whirling around, watching in confusion as he ran toward a gate where passengers were swarming off their plane. Three Mexicans leaning against a post stared at her, then at the man, then at her, and she noticed them at the same time she saw the dark man's face. Not Zack's face.

The public address system seemed to blare in her ears: Flight 620 from Los Angeles is now arriving at Gate A-64. Flight 1152 from Phoenix is arriving at Gate A-23. Flight 134…"

Shaking harder, Julie reached a trembling hand up, shoved her hair off her forehead and began walking swiftly and blindly down the terminal, wanting it to happen without her seeing it now. Four more minutes. If she walked fast, she thought, if she didn't look right or left, Zack would move out from behind a post or a pillar, materialize in a doorway, and they'd take him and it would be over.

Please, God, let it happen quickly, she prayed in a chant that matched her long, quick strides after she passed unchallenged through customs. Don't let them hurt him. Let it happen quickly. Don't let them hurt him. Let it happen quickly.

Walking swiftly, she shoved past the passengers emerging from the crowded security check gate, and without breaking stride, she glanced at the overhead sign with an arrow pointing to the terminal exit, turned in that direction, and kept right on going. Don't let them hurt him… Don't let them hurt him… Don't let him be here, she chanted hysterically as she walked. Two more minutes. Ahead were the doors leading out to the brightly lit area where taxis and cars were waiting with their headlights on. Don't let him be here. Don't let him be here. Don't let him be here. Don't let him be—here.

He wasn't here.

Julie stopped dead, oblivious to the fact that she was being shoved and jostled by streams of laughing, talking people trying to get around her to leave the terminal. Slowly she turned, her gaze drifting past Paul Richardson, who'd halted and seemed to be chatting with Ted … past the group of laughing Mexicans rushing toward her … past the tall, stooped, elderly man with graying hair, who was carrying a suitcase, his head bent … past the mother with— The old man! Julie's gaze shot back to him just as he slowly lifted his head and raised his eyes to her … his warm, smiling, golden eyes.

Screaming a silent warning to him, Julie stepped forward once, twice, and started running, shoving through the crowd, trying to throw herself between him and danger at the same time a male voice boomed. "HOLD IT RIGHT THERE, BENEDICT!"

Zack froze, men grabbed him, throwing him against the wall, but his eyes stayed riveted on Julie, warning her fiercely to stay away. Pandemonium erupted with the shouts of passengers scrambling to get out of the way of Mexican Federales, who were running forward drawing guns, and Julie heard herself screaming at all of them, "Don't hurt him! Don't hurt him!"

Paul Richardson grabbed her, jerking her back.

"They're hurting him!" she cried, struggling in his grip to see around the bodies of the men crowded around him. "They're hurting him!"

"It's all over!" Paul shouted in her ear, trying to restrain and calm her. "It's all right! It's over!"

The words finally registered and Julie froze. Unable to pull free or look away, she watched in paralyzed anguish as Zack was surrounded and searched under the supervision of a short, impeccably dressed man with thinning hair who suddenly seemed to be in charge. He was smiling as he watched Zack being frisked by the Mexican Federales, and she heard him say, "We're going home, Benedict, and we're going to be together for a long, long time—" He broke off as one of the Federales pulled something out of Zack's pocket, and he held out his hand. "What's that?" he snapped.

The Federale dropped the object into his palm and Julie felt her body go cold at the evil in his smile as he looked from the object in his hand to Zack's expressionless profile. "How sweet!" he sneered, then he turned suddenly toward Julie, striding forward.


Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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